The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
- Children act out the parable: the Pharisee
might pray from the pulpit, to accentuate his pride.
- An adult draws out the meaning of the
- Three readers for the drama.
- An adult to lead the teaching.
and any appropriate dressing-up clothes for the Pharisee and tax
- Select readers at the start of the service
or in advance, in accordance with your usual practice.
- Who were these men? They would have been
very familiar to Jesus' listeners. The Pharisees were a group of Jewish
people who believed in keeping a very strict version of God's laws. They
even went beyond what was required of them in the Bible. They were
well-known for being good, holy people who kept the Jewish faith alive
during times of occupation and exile. The tax collectors, on the other
hand, were hated because they worked for the Roman occupiers. They were
seen as traitors because they collected taxes for the Romans from their
own people. They were well-known for cheating their own people out of
more money than they really owed in taxes - and for reporting them to the
Roman soldiers if they couldn't afford to pay. It was as if Jesus came to
us today and said, "Two men went into church to pray. One was a
churchwarden and the other was a drug pusher."
- The Pharisees knew the importance of God's
law, and did his best to keep it. The problem was not that he lived a
wicked life, like the tax collector, but that he thought that he could
earn God's favour by following rules. If we look again at his prayer, we
can see that he didn't bother to ask God for anything. He didn't think
that he needed anything from God, because he could do it all himself. All
he needed to do was follow the rules - and he was very pleased with
himself for doing this, and saw himself as better than everyone else
because of it.
- The tax collector, on the other hand, did
not think himself better than anyone. He knew that he was a sinner - that
he lived a wicked life - and he felt terrible about it. BUT he did have
the faith to ask God for something: His mercy, pity and forgiveness. He
knew fine well that he hadn't earned any of this, but he turned to God in
- What are we to learn from this parable?
Certainly not that the Pharisee lived a bad life and the tax collector a
good one. Nor that God would not have forgiven the Pharisee, just as much
as the tax collector, if only he'd had the faith to ask for
- What we can learn, instead, is that we do
not - cannot - earn God's love and forgiveness. We are saved by God's
amazing grace. Our good deeds are a natural response to God's love and
forgiveness - not the cause of it.
- And we can learn that Jesus brings hope to
all who know themselves to be sinners. We don't need to live with guilt
and shame. When we know that we have done wrong, we need to trust God to
have mercy on us. So long as we, like the tax collector, are genuinely
sorry, we can be as bold as him in asking God to forgive us, and to
transform us, day by day, by the power of His Holy Spirit, into the image
of His Son Jesus Christ.